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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Zooming in on your reality

The July Issue of Wired magazine had an interesting feature on Google Maps and the way it is democratizing the skills of mapmaking, which have always been a powerful tool for those trying to define reality (see the article Google Maps Is Changing the Way We See the World). By allowing users to share their maps annotated with descriptions of the places that make up their world, Google is spreading the information wealth that had been the reserve of the political elites of eras past.

One of the interesting sidebars to the piece includes a tidbit about a new technology that allows cell phone users to call up information on buildings they pass on the street. Here's an excerpt:
What if you could walk down an unfamiliar street, use your camera phone to take a picture of a building, and instantly know everything about it, from the architect to the list of tenants. The technology to make common objects clickable, like hyperlinked words on a Web site, is available today in the form of 2-D barcodes. These digital tags look like empty crossword puzzles. Users create them online, print them out, and paste them around the city. Then anyone with a phonecam can "click" on them.
As with all technological innovations, this one has the potential for mischief as well as enlightenment. I don't know how the information is being vetted, but it's pretty easy to imagine pranksters creating bogus entries about a place they don't like. Spammers could create faux barcodes that call up unsolicited ads, or law enforcement could encode personal information that jeopardizes tenants' privacy.

I can also imagine the technology getting spread out to other objects in our environment, leading to a chattering world of smart buildings, buses, cars, and trains beaming their various messages to passersby ... much as the information swarm depicted in the film Minority Report.

At some point we may also see barcodes on people, either stitched into apparel or tattooed on skin. You could share your bio, blog address, email and cell number with anyone wanting to network, socialize or hookup. The creatively vengeful might even take the opportunity to spread some sensitive insider scoop about an ex-partner by surreptitiously hanging a strategic link on their back like a virtual kick-me sign.

As always, those who control the information technology will determine its uses, so master it as soon as you can.
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